How many of us stop to consider what truly fuels our body and mind, sustaining us with nourishment, giving us the energy to stay ahead in this fast paced world? Though we are aware on an elemental level that hygiene, purity and nutrition play an important role in our lives, we often remain short sighted in the way we treat this very fuel that supports life.
In recent years, we have seen sweeping trends across the world in the form of myriad diets and fads, as people have begun to understand the transformational power of food. While each trend builds on the need for healthier, more nutritious meals, what is often overlooked in our quest for convenience and instant gratification is that at the very core, each and every ingredient that makes up what we eat needs to be healthy. We need to look at the bigger picture. No matter what kind of diet, or what goals we set for ourselves, if every ingredient that makes up what we eat is not pure, hygienic or nutritious, it will only detract from result we intend to achieve.
Consider the case of spices such as chilli powder, coriander powder, black pepper or turmeric powder, staples in every Indian kitchen. In recent times, the US FDA has issued a recall of Indian spices due to Salmonella contamination. Further, spices such as chilli powder and turmeric powder have often been found to have unacceptable levels of heavy metals such as Lead (Pb) in them. What can we hope to achieve if our spices, revered in India for their medicinal properties, are found to be contaminated, and even downright harmful?
If the latest trends are anything to go by, food contamination has been steadily on the rise, with additives, preservatives and microbes, finding their way to our tables. The very purity that we take for granted is compromised, leading to unnecessary illness and disorders. According to a 2019 report by the World Health Organization, 1 in 10 people fall ill after eating contaminated food worldwide.
In a country as vastly populated as India, where we see food borne diseases such as diarrhoea peak every monsoon, a few stringent measures can bring about a big drop in the number of cases of this very preventable infection. This requires a very clear understanding of something as fundamental as the fact that the food we eat can only be as pure hygienic or nutritious as the ingredients that go into making it.
Starting with the very way our produce is grown, free from chemicals and toxic agents, farmed sustainably. When our crops are grown sustainably, it reduces the burden on the farmer who is then able to delivering superior quality, while enriching the soil as well as conserving water. This results in a solution that is better, not just for us, but for the planet as well.
The next essential step we need to take is ensuring that the manufacturing processes we follow are not a source of contamination themselves. All too often, we see that no set standards are maintained at manufacturing facilities, and this is a worrisome trend that needs to be addressed. With the Indian packaged food industry set to see double digit growth in the coming years, it is essential that our facilities meet stringent domestic as well international benchmarks.
Even with automated food processing plants on the rise, the question remains, how nutritious is the packaged food we eventually consume. This is a quest that requires the help of scientifically researched processes, to ensure that food is processed using procedures that do not render them lacking in nutrients. For a country that consumed unpolished rice for centuries, we have progressed to polished white rice, robbed of most nutrients. Unpolished rice attracted insects and larvae which made it hard for us to store and clean. With today’s technology, however, it is easily possible to avoid this inconvenience, yet we continue to mindlessly consume what appears to be the easier option.
Does our processing ensure we are retaining fibre rich nutrition, does our treatment retain all the micronutrients it should? These are the questions we should be asking ourselves, because a population on the move, it is only natural that we seek the speed, convenience and efficiency that packaged food has to offer.
These are not distant dreams but achievable targets we need to work towards. To make food safer, to make food better, to make food healthier.